Abbott to ABC: put Q&A under news division and ministers will return

The ban on government frontbenchers appearing on Q&A will be lifted by the Prime Minister when the program is transferred into the news and current affairs department. ABC

Tony Abbott on Friday told the ABC that ministers will appear again on Q&A if and when the program is brought under its news and current affairs umbrella.

This would mean there would be stricter controls on the program in terms of balance.

The Abbott condition stops Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull being a panellist, as originally scheduled, on Monday. But he has agreed to do the 7.30 program instead that evening.

ABC chairman Jim Spigelman, in a letter to Abbott on Thursday, said a transfer to the News Division had “merit” and was being considered.

Spigelman said the announced review of Q&A would include the controversial June 22 episode in which former terrorism suspect Zaky Mallah asked a question, but only as part of assessing the program more broadly. The review will cover 23 episodes, from February 2 to June 29.

The review, being done by former SBS managing director Shaun Brown and journalist Ray Martin, could take up to 15-18 weeks, Spigelman wrote.

“Q&A will continue to be broadcast as scheduled while the review is being undertaken. The ABC board has considered and approved management advice on changes to the operations of Q&A. These include matters which fall outside the scope of an editorial review of this character.

"I anticipate management will propose further changes of this kind while the review is taking place. One of the options under active consideration is to transfer the program to the News Division. I see merit in this proposal,” the letter said.

In a brief and tersely worded reply that referred to the “notorious” June 22 episode, Abbott said that in discussions with the ABC, Turnbull had been “given to expect that Q&A would be moved to news and current affairs – which would be appropriate for such a program.

"In your letter to me, you indicate that transferring Q&A to the news division ‘has merit’.”

“Front benchers look forward to resuming their participation on Q&A once this move takes place. I hope this can happen as soon as possible.”

On Thursday the ABC released the terms of reference for the review. The reviewers will look at:

  1. Featured topics for discussion – was the range of subjects broad enough to encourage a diversity of perspectives and reflect the community’s varied interests and experiences?

  2. Panel composition, in terms of diversity of perspectives over time and not unduly favouring one perspective over another. Should the selection method be changed?

  3. Whether the moderation of the program ensured fair treatment of panellists and topics.

  4. The questions featured. Did they provide appropriate diversity of topics and perspectives and should changes be made to the method used to solicit and choose questions from the audience?

  5. Whether the responses of audiences influenced the reviewers’ perception of the program’s impartiality. Did the composition of the audience seem predictable from week to week? Should there be change to the method of audience selection?

  6. The impact of the Twitter stream running across the screen in augmenting or detracting from the overall performance of the program.

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